Slow and meandering, Paul Schrader’s The Card Counter is a character study that doesn’t quite hit the mark.

The Card Counter is the latest film from writer/director Paul Schrader (First Reformed) starring Oscar Isaac (Ex-Machina), Tiffany Haddish (Girls Trip) and Tye Sheridan (Ready Player One). The film follows William Tell (Isaac), an ex-military interrogator and former convict who travels across America counting cards in casinos. Knowing to place only small bets so as not to anger the casino owners, his life is small, quiet and regimented until a ghost from his past shows up, setting him on a potential path to salvation.

The resultant film is slow and meandering, but not really in a good way. The two hour runtime feels like it has been stretched out past three hours and beyond at times. At one point a character in the film points out that the poker games William is playing are ‘very repetitive’ and it seems as though he’s talking instead to the audience about the film. Stylistically, it feels too that Schrader has purposefully removed colour and atmosphere from the film, instead encasing the images in something more stale, reflecting perhaps the casinos around the US and perhaps highlighting the internal state of William. But it comes at a price, with the film very hard to lock into.

True, there are moments of high octane during flashbacks of torture conducted by Isaac’s character, which feel in stark contrast to the rest of the film. And whilst there’s obvious intent with Schrader’s deployment of fisheye lenses, fast moving drone shots and overstimulating noise, these didn’t quite work for this viewer at least.

On the plus sides, Isaac gives a solid performance, quiet and at times menacing, the film never letting you feel comfortable enough to know what actions he may take next. Haddish plays opposite him as a potential love interest well enough, but also there’s not much chemistry between the pair, sadly, unhelpful when they come together. Haddish is absolutely not a poor performer but seems miscast here, and in a different film to her co-star.

Rounding out the cast is Tye Sheridan, a young man William takes under his wing due to a connection in their past. He fares better, and in particular Sheridan and Isaac’s scenes together provide both levity and tension due to the nature of their meeting and relationship. They then provide the impetus for the third act.

The Card Counter is intended to be the character study of a lost man, but it fails to provide a fully formed character for us to focus on. As such, it falls just a little flat.

The Card Counter is in UK cinemas now.


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